Monday 15 October 2018

Lawyers consider case from all sides but fail to reach unanimous verdict

Martha Kearns

LAWYERS yesterday gave conflicting advice to voters in the abortion referendum, with one group urging a No vote and the other supporting a Yes.

Lawyers Against the Amendment, including high-profile Trinity professors Ivana Bacik and Yvonne Scannell, told a press conference that the amendment devalued and endangered the lives of pregnant women.

And the proposal would mean that a "desperate" woman who attempted to procure an abortion, and anyone who helped her, could be jailed for 12 years.

Doctors would also be criminalised if they performed an abortion to save a woman's life but not in an approved place.

"So if a woman was in danger in somewhere remote and couldn't be got to the nearest approved place, the doctor would have committed a criminal offence if he treated her. On the other hand, no offence is provided for if a doctor refuses to carry out procedures necessary to save a woman's life, even if the woman dies as a result," said convener Aoife Goodman BL.

She added that both the definition of abortion and the penalties for it would be contained in a piece of legislation that has constitutional status.

"At present, the only other crime contained in the Constitution is treason. Why is abortion being included above such things as murder and rape?" she asked.

Professor Yvonne Scannell said the amendment "is saying that the life of the woman is worth less than the life of the unborn".

Professor Ivana Bacik said there was an inconsistency between the proposed article and the existing one. "We fail to see how any judge could make the two amendments fit together." Meanwhile, a group of more than 100 other lawyers held a press conference yesterday afternoon to present what they described as "the only published legal analysis of the referendum, signed publicly by its supporters".

Represented by former Minister for Labour Michael O'Kennedy, former Justice Minister Patrick Cooney, and barrister Benedict O Floinn, the group said they concluded that a Yes vote meant that medical treatment necessary to save the life of expectant mothers would be safeguarded.

They added that the proposed amendment also acknowledged that the unborn human life begins, and is protected, before implantation in the womb.

Mr Cooney said if the referendum fell, it would result in abortion legislation being introduced.

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